Thursday, March 26, 2009

What did you learn at school today?

Maybe the tyranny of the petty education bureaucracy?
Corsages, tuxedos, limos and breathalyzers are coming to high school proms and dances this year, at least in some schools in the country. In yet another effort to curb underage drinking and driving, various high schools are requiring students to take breath tests before allowing them to attend and participate in prom night festivities.
While we're on the topic of school proms, how about telling the parents of a dead student that you're suspending her?
The parents of a girl who died suddenly two months ago have been sent a letter from her school demanding she improves her attendance. Signed by the deputy headmaster, the letter threatened to ban Megan Gillan from the end of year prom.
Nonsense, grumble the easily led. This is an aberration, a one-off, the exception that proves the rule. OK, how about strip-searching teenage girls because you think they may have an ibuprofin at school?

An assistant principal, enforcing the school’s antidrug policies, suspected her of having brought prescription-strength ibuprofen pills to school. One of the pills is as strong as two Advils.

The search by two female school employees was methodical and humiliating, Ms. Redding said. After she had stripped to her underwear, “they asked me to pull out my bra and move it from side to side,” she said. “They made me open my legs and pull out my underwear.”

Ms. Redding, an honors student, had no pills. But she had a furious mother and a lawyer, and now her case has reached the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on April 21.

But don't worry - the search, as the school's attorney said was “not excessively intrusive in light of Redding’s age and sex and the nature of her suspected infraction.”

Or how about the government seizing your assets and keeping them, without ever charging you with a crime?
Americans are losing their homes, cars, cash and other valuables - to the police. Civil forfeiture - an ancient legal doctrine expanded to prosecute the war on drugs - allows the police to arrest property, charge it with a crime and hold it indefinitely, though the owner may never be charged with a crime.
A.I.G. executives? Pariahs. Local school administrators? Untouchable. Probably the only exposure that most kids have to repression is their day-to-day existence at school. What's surprising is that people are surprised by this sort of petty officialdom: there's quite an extensive body of literature describing it.
No tyranny is so irksome as petty tyranny: the officious demands of policemen, government clerks, and electromechanical gadgets.

- Edward Abbey
UPDATE 26 March 2009 19:40: Minor edits and rearranging. If you read this before, this version is more polished.

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